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Between Literature and History

The Diaries and Memoirs of Mary Leadbeater and Dorothea Herbert

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Barbara Hughes

This book explores the remarkable diaries and memoirs of Mary Leadbeater (1758-1826) and Dorothea Herbert (c.1767-1829), both of whom lived in Ireland. Working on the premise that their identities are literary constructions, the author investigates the cultural and existential impulses that motivate their creation. Leadbeater’s diaries span fifty-seven years and include uncensored teenage journals, which are a rarity in Western Europe. Herbert was a member of the minor gentry and her extraordinary memoir, depicting her descent into madness, provides a wealth of cultural and historical information.
The principal advantage of conducting a joint study of the writings of both women lies in the manner in which the work of one writer functions as an implied corrective to the representations of the other. In the present instance, this militates against simplistic assessments of the relationships between gender, class, ethnicity and narrativity in eighteenth-century Europe.

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